Morphological identification of ticks and molecular detection of tick-borne pathogens from bare-nosed wombats (Vombatus ursinus)

Danielle Beard, Hayley J. Stannard, Julie M. Old

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Abstract

Background: Ticks are obligate haematophagous ectoparasites of vertebrate hosts and transmit the widest range of pathogenic organisms of any arthropod vector. Seven tick species are known to feed on bare-nosed wombats (Vombatus ursinus), in addition to the highly prevalent Sarcoptes scabiei mite which causes fatal sarcoptic mange in most bare-nosed wombat populations. Little is known about the pathogens carried by most wombat ticks or how they may impact wombats and wombat handlers. Methods: Wombat ticks were sourced from wildlife hospitals and sanctuaries across Australia and identified to species level using taxonomic keys. Genomic DNA was extracted from a subsample, and following the amplification of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene V3–V4 hypervariable region, next-generation sequencing (NGS) on the Illumina MiSeq platform was used to assess the microbial composition. Results: A total of 447 tick specimens were collected from 47 bare-nosed wombats between January 2019 and January 2020. Five species of ticks were identified comprising wombat tick Bothriocroton auruginans (n = 420), wallaby tick Haemaphysalis bancrofti (n = 8), bush tick Haemaphysalis longicornis (n = 3), common marsupial tick Ixodes tasmani (n = 12), and Australian paralysis tick Ixodes holocyclus (n = 4). Tick infestations ranged from one to 73 ticks per wombat. The wombat tick was the most prevalent tick species comprising 94% of the total number of samples and was present on 97.9% (46/47) of wombat hosts. NGS results revealed the 16S rRNA gene diversity profile was predominantly Proteobacteria (55.1%) followed by Firmicutes (21.9%) and Actinobacteria (18.4%). A species of Coxiella sharing closest sequence identity to Coxiella burnetii (99.07%), was detected in 72% of B. auruginans and a Rickettsiella endosymbiont dominated the bacterial profile for I. tasmani. Conclusions: A new host record for H. longicornis is the bare-nosed wombat. One adult male and two engorged adult female specimens were found on an adult male wombat from Coolagolite in New South Wales, and more specimens should be collected to confirm this host record. The most prevalent tick found on bare-nosed wombats was B. auruginans, confirming previous records. Analysis of alpha-diversity showed high variability across both sample locations and instars, similar to previous studies. The detection of various Proteobacteria in this study highlights the high bacterial diversity in native Australian ticks.[Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish
Article number60
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalParasites and Vectors
Volume14
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

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